It is my pleasure to introduce the newest series, “Tales of the Mental Hospital” to QueerMentalHealth.org. Spending time in a hospital can be an unpleasant and scary experience for many of us. Taking a more lighthearted look at our experiences can be healing for many of those who have had to stay in a mental hospital for some time. Chandler came up with the idea to write about his experiences, and after discussing it together we decided it would be a great idea to make it into a series here. We encourage anyone to add their stories to the series as well!
During my formerly frequent stays to various psychiatric facilities in MO & FL, I’ve met quite a few characters. They’ve ranged from scary violent psychos, to hilariously deranged schizophrenics, to the just plain bizarre. That statement also includes some of the people who worked there. Sometimes, the staff is just on the wrong side of the desk.Needless to say, each separate hospitalization was a truly unique experience. With all the E/N depression threads I’ve seen pop up, I think now is a good time to share some of the hilarity that an inpatient psych hospital can offer. That’s right, the hospital can be fun.
My first hospitalization was at the age of 18, and it was voluntary, as I was suicidal and depressed over a failed relationship (yeah yeah e/n teenage angst). By voluntary, I mean I was presented the choice of A) Sign myself into Summit Hospital, a rather decent private psych facility. , or B) Be committed at Muhlenberg Regional, which is the catch man pysch hospital for my area and not exactly the nicest of wards.
My choice was obviously Summit. Summit really wasn’t that bad, as far as hospitals go. The staff was mostly friendly unless you acted out, a few days into your stay you were allowed to go upstairs to the dining hall, provided you weren’t completely fucked, designated smoke breaks, things like that. But what really made Summit ok was the patients. It wasn’t designed for the violent psycho outburst patients I would run into later at Muhlenberg.
My first few days at Summit were mainly uneventful. There was group therapy, I learned how to play spades, and things were cool. Then came Dianne. Dianne was as paranoid a schizophrenic as they come. She was convinced the US Govt had turned her into a lesbian nun, which was odd, considering her boyfriend would visit her throughout her stay in the hospital.
We all pretty much learned to ignore her ranting and kind of walk away from her once she got going. Apparently, Dianne did not deal well with lack of attention. One day after lunch, all the Status 2’s (those allowed to leave the wing and go upstairs to eat) were returning back into the wing to get our allotted two cigs for our after lunch smoke break. As the door opens, we heard screaming, singing and laughter all at once.
It seems Dianne had decided a great way to get attention would be to run around the wing completely naked while singing opera. The wing was small, so it only took the staff about 2-3 minutes to cut her off and finally subdue her. Even after her subsequent capture and injection of Ativan (Summit’s number one choice to chill us out), Dianne could still be heard singing from the confines of the quiet room for a good amount of time.
About a year later, I was once again admitted into Summit. The following incident would lead to them asking that I never returned. It was early on a Tuesday morning. It was late November, and it was extremely cold. So cold, in fact, that the MHA responsible for watching us on our smoke break wouldn’t leave the wing lobby, which generally wouldn’t be a problem, because the courtyard was fully encircled by the building.
I was in my usual spot, right near the employee entrance/maintenance door, which was set back a bit and offered some shelter from the wind. I leaned back against the door and felt it move. I couldn’t believe it, the door wasn’t locked. Apparently,the last person to use it hadn’t slammed it, so the lock didn’t engage. So, in my infinite underly medicated and completely bored with being hospitalized wisdom, I decided to go for a walk. I pushed the door open and stood on the other side of it for a minute to see what would happen. Nothing. The MHA didn’t see me. So, I casually strolled down to the end of the driveway and waited.
Still, no one came. At that point I figured “hey fuck it, I’ll walk to the train station and get the hell out of here. So, I’m now walking through downtown Summit looking for the train station, when I hear my name called. I turned around to see 4 MHA’s rapidly approaching. At that point I realized the jig was up, and realized there was no way I could outrun all four of them, so I just kept walking until they finally caught up with me.
Of course, being that I was not happy at the prospect of being locked up for Thanksgiving, I resolved that I would not make it easy for them to bring me back. Once they caught up to me and grabbed hold of me, I just relaxed my legs, and basically made them carry/drag me all the way back to the hospital. Once they got me back to the rear entrance, something inside me kicked in and I decided that I would no longer make things easy for them. I put my feet against the door frame, determined not to go back in.
I fought them the best I could, but it was no use at all. I was rather quickly overpowered and dragged inside. A smart person would have just given up at that point, but at the time I was by no means a smart person. I started pulling and struggling to get these guys off me. This only made the situation worse, as I was forced down onto the floor of the wing so the nurse could come and administer the ever popular needle of Ativan into my ass cheek. I continued to try and fight, until a rather large fellow named Abdullah decided the best way to keep me down would to be to use his knee to pin my head to the rug.
After the needle, I continued my struggling, cursing and screaming until the drug kicked in. Once it started to take effect, I began to calm down, and Abdullah took his knee off of my head and helped the others drag me into “the quiet room”. The quiet room in Summit was a small room behind the nurse’s station, with nothing but a mattress on the floor. I spent about 4hours in there, sleeping off the Ativan. When I awoke, I was allowed out of the quiet room, but put on 1 on 1. 1 on 1 is the most annoying thing you could possibly be punished with, in my opinion. For the next 24 hours, wherever I went, I had someone with me. Going to the bathroom? Leave the door open. Time for dinner? You have an MHA sitting next to you at the table. Time for lights out? Guess who’s in the doorway of your room watching you sleep. Once my 1 on 1 time was over, the rest of my stay was pretty much quiet, and I was discharged about a week or so later. Abdullah was henceforth known among the MHA’s as “Abdullah the Butcher”, after some professional wrestler or something
Another incident arose, where I needed to once again be hospitalized. This time I was taken by ambulance to Muhlenberg Regional and locked in a “crisis” room in the ER. Having heard very bad things about this place from patients who’d been there before while I was in Summit, I was determined to escape. Escaping from a crisis room and out of the ER is no small feat. I watched and waited, until I saw an old man standing near the door. It was plain to see he was with someone else, and not actual hospital staff. I tapped at the window and pointed down to the locked knob. He was nice enough to open the door for me, not realizing I was locked in for a reason. I walked quickly over to the exit. FUCK! There was a security guard standing at a podium there. “Where do you think you’re going”, he asked. “I’m just going out for a smoke; I’ll brb” I replied. “You can’t leave, now let’s go back to the crisis room and not cause a scene, ok?” was his response. I thought it over for a few seconds and tried to negotiate. “How about you take me out for a smoke, then I’ll go back? I won’t run off, I promise”. He told me “I can’t do that”, so I tried to step around him and go out anyway. He blocked the way and said “Don’t make things hard on yourself”. At this point I knew I wouldn’t be seeing a cig for a long time, so I decided I had to push my luck, and attempt to push by him. What a mistake that was. He grabbed me and slammed me to the wall. I tried to reverse out of his hold when all of a sudden 4 more security out of fucking nowhere. I was, once again, quickly subdued and taken back to the crisis room. All that I really accomplished with that brilliant maneuver was a bump on my forehead and a faster trip upstairs to the actual
Muhlenberg’s ward was the total opposite of Summit. Loud, way too hot and all around rather grimy looking. I was taken and given a quick checkup and placed into a room. My roommate was a black kid around my age named Kevin. Kevin was pretty good guy, and we got along well. But Kevin was also a total fucking psycho. One day I woke up to the loudest screaming and cursing I had ever heard, even to this day. It seems Kevin had tried to slip out behind the orderly who was pushing the breakfast cart. He was caught, and dragged back to our room by a huge gang of security guards and MHA’s. He continued to fight them, and pissed at being woken up in such a manner, I of course encouraged him. “You aren’t gonna take that shit, are you Kev”? I asked. “Fuck that shit”, he replied. He took a swing at one of the guards and was dragged to one of the ward’s quiet rooms. I didn’t know what they looked like at the time, but I would soon find out. About 2 weeks into my stay, I was just plain miserable. Denying people with emotional problems nicotine is about the worst thing you can do. I was cranky and angry, and my girlfriend at the time was not helping matters. She was constantly yelling at me over the phone to just do what I was told by the staff, which in retrospect was the right thing, but I was bitter at being locked up yet again.
During a particularly heated argument with her, one of the nurses started giving me shit about my yelling. She was right, but between her bitching and my girlfriend still on the phone yelling “See? SEE?” I flipped. I hung up the phone and took the chair I was sitting on and fired it as hard and as far as I could down the hallway. This turned out to be a mistake, because Muhlenberg staff does NOT put up with any shit at all. She yelled down the hall for someone to call security, and yet another gang of rent-a-cops was once again dispatched to the ward. As per usual, I was grabbed and dragged down to the quiet room. This time, unlike Summit, I was stripped down to my boxers and placed in 4 point restraints and given an injection of Thorazine. Muhlenberg is probably one of the few hospitals who still use that shit, and I can see why. Thorazine turns you into a drooling zombie. Once it kicked in, all I could do was stare at the ceiling and float in and out of reality. Needless to say, I did not fuck with Muhlenberg staff again during my stay. After about 3 weeks, if you really don’t show much improvement, you get moved to Runnells. Runnells was like taking the Muhlenberg patients and sticking them into Summit’s ward. Runnells was truly full of whacky people. There was Ernie, the rocker. Ernie used to sit and rock back and forth for hours while he talked to you. Watching Ernie was damn near the closest you could get to motion sickness without actually being the one doing the moving. Michael was a funny ass guy, simply due to his paranoia. He would come up to you, ask for a cigarette, then look at it and think you poisoned it. We generally ignored Michael. The funniest was easily Andy. Andy was completely bonkers and decided one day that he was the mayor of Runnells. He would sit and ramble for hours to anyone in earshot about how he was the mayor, and the richest man in the world. He’d also often tell us he had a diamond as big as the entire hospital buried beneath it. Needless to say, many hours of boredom were relieved by Andy’s incessant ramblings.